University of Chile (Chile) Satellites of the University of Chile were launched into space
“This is a milestone for us. There are three satellites built simultaneously and that will be operated at the same time as a small constellation. There are few institutions that have launched more than one satellite in a single launch and we are in that group, learning new knowledge and acquiring new skills,” said the researcher responsible for the University of Chile Space Program, Marcos Díaz, coordinator of the Space and Planetary Exploration Laboratory (SPEL) of the Faculty of Physical and Mathematical Sciences (FCFM) of the University of Chile.
“Chile has the preparation to develop,”said FCFM Dean Francisco Martinez after the successful launch. “This is the result of theformation of new generationsthat are capable of developing large-scale technological advances. The technology we are developing is very sophisticated, requires many years and expertise. It’s a great message for the country, for us to develop our technology. It is the only way to become a developed country,” he added.
“The University of Chile puts the country in the global orbit in satellite matters,” said Rector Ennio Vivaldi. Our entire community has vibrated with this fact that marks a milestone, “added the university authority and stressed the historical duty of the house of studies to guide the country along the paths of development and position it in the forefront of science.
“Not everyone in this country is convinced that it makes sense to invest and develop science. There are those who think it is better to buy science elsewhere. Let others develop it and we are going to buy it with what we earn by selling our raw materials. That is a huge mistake and today’s milestone proves it,” he added.
TheMinister of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation, Flavio Salazar, highlighted the project as an important and rewarding example. “We have raised from universities and communities, for a long time, the need totake into account the capabilities that Chile has, but beyond the speeches, the best way to demonstrate it is in practice and here it is being demonstrated,” he said and announced that thesatellite and aerospace area will be one of the issues that the current government will promote. Not to be part of the international space race, “but related to the very needs of having an observation and collection of data to be able to plan policies and have a better development”.
A project with a vision of the State
This leap responds to apolicy of the FCFM in space development, added Marcos Díaz. “A policy that has transcended the authorities and own resources. The first satellite, SUCHAI-1, was fully funded by the FCFM and these new satellites are 85% externally funded. This evolution responds to a policy of our Faculty and its vision of the State. It has left us great learnings and capabilities and is putting us at the forefront of the development and operation of satellites in an agile way, if everything turns out as we expect.”
The funds provided by the Office for Scientific Research of the United States Air Force (AFOSR), the National Agency for Research and Development of Chile (ANID), the companies Gomspace, MCI and CRP, and the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), have been key to the development of this project.
The Next Step: Wake Up the Satellites
The three satellites will be launched into orbit at an altitude of about 550 km. Its launch was managed through the Italian intermediary company D-Orbit, who in about a month, will position the satellites in the orbit required for the missions of the Space Program. Once in position, the ground station will begin its communication work with the three vehicles, confirming that they are operational, to begin activating the different research projects in space science, biological sciences, and technological and communication developments that load the satellites.
“It is different from the first launch (SUCHAI-1, in 2017), because the rocket leaves in space the device that carries our satellites inside and will only be positioned in the orbital plane we need after about 21 days, at which time they will be released. At that minute we are just going to go out and look for them and start operating them from the facilities in the Department of Electrical Engineering of the FCFM, “explained the principal investigator.
A new milestone will occur approximately six months after the start of the operation, when two femtosatellites will be deployed that will increase the constellation to five interconnected satellites, with a common formation and working as a system (swarm). With these five measurement points it is intended to study a solar storm.
This new phase of the Space Program of the University of Chile considersoperating the three satellites from the ground station for at least one year. “We hope to reach the almost two-year operating time that SUCHAI-1 had and perhaps exceed it, but it will also depend on operations resources,” said Marcos Díaz.
A future with potential for Chile
The team behind these missions is led by theSpace and Planetary Exploration Laboratory (SPEL) of the FCFM, together with students, researchers and academics from other national institutions, such as the universities of Santiago, Valparaíso, Antofagasta, PUC de Valparaíso, Biociencia, CINNDA and SIRIO. In addition to international collaborators from the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, TU Delft, the University of Tokyo and Rubin Observatory (AURA).
“I am very proud to have participated in this project and to have worked with an incredible team: graduate students, undergraduate students, as well as communities of researchers, scientists, professionals and administrators of the FCFM itself, as well as teams from other universitiesthat also collaborated by making their laboratories and times available. All this work was developed in a scenario of pandemic, confinement, and the understanding of the authorities allowed us to continue working and developing the program with all the sanitary precautions of the case, “said Díaz.
“This program leaves us with a light of illusion of what is to come. We have prepared new people, new talents. We have new knowledge, new experiences and we have a vision of what we can continue to learn and develop in the country,” he said.
The nanosatellite of 10x10x30 cm, has an approximate weight of 3.5 kilos and its main objective is the study of space physics.
It has sensors for the study of the space environment, the ionosphere and the magnetosphere: two magnetometers -instruments to measure the intensity of the magnetic field-, as well as a Langmuir probe, whose main objective is to study the ionosphere.
It is equipped with a two-frequency GPS that allows measuring electron content and a camera designed to evaluate light pollution at night, concentrating on white light, which has not been evaluated from space.
Almost a twin of SUCHAI-2, it differs from the first because it carries with it two other femtosatellites, small satellites – the size of a cell phone – that will be deployed once in space and that also carry magnetometers, which will increase to 5 points the measurement of the Earth’s magnetic field. Each femtosatellite carries patch antenna arrays, which will allow them to be located, using their communication with the larger satellites, SUCHAI-2 and SUCHAI-3.
SUCHAI-3 carries an IOT (Internet of Things) system, whose performance will be evaluated in space. Its side antennas will help to evaluate with radio systems the location of the femtosatellites and where the radiation comes from in order to locate them in space.
It is a nanosatellite whose objective is to perform biological experiments in space.
Inside it will travel a tillandsia or carnation of the air, a plant that does not need soil to survive, but that works as an analogue to plants that can be relevant in space, both as food and to produce oxygen. Its container, specially manufactured to keep the plant alive and measure its condition, will determine if it tolerates the space environment, microgravity and radiation. With the same objective, four smaller containers with extremophile microorganisms that live in extreme areas of Chile and that may have applications in space, such as water purifiers, for example, waste degradation and leaching, will be sent for potential space mining.
In addition to the containers with biological samples, the satellite carries two magnetometers to measure the Earth’s magnetic field and a graphene transistor, material that for the first time is taken to space to evaluate its performance in that hostile environment, which will allow to discover potential uses in space applications